This article presents a study of seismic data compression techniques and a compression algorithm based on subband coding. The algorithm includes three stages: a decorrelation stage, a quantization stage that introduces a controlled amount of distortion to allow for high compression ratios, and a lossless entropy coding stage based on a simple but efficient arithmetic coding method. Subband coding methods are particularly suited to the decorrelation of nonstationary processes such as seismic events. Adaptivity to the nonstationary behavior of the waveform is achieved by dividing the data into separate blocks that are encoded separately with an adaptive arithmetic encoder. This is done with high efficiency due to the low overhead introduced by the arithmetic encoder in specifying its parameters. The technique could be used as a progressive transmission system, where successive refinements of the data can be requested by the user. This allows seismologists to first examine a coarse version of waveforms with minimal usage of the channel and then decide where refinements are required. Rate-distortion performance results are presented and comparisons are made with two block transform methods.